Archive for the ‘ Training ’ Category

The Devil is in the Detail

Thursday, September 28th, 2017

My previous post discussed the Swimming New Zealand plan to replace the centralized Millennium high performance program with a program based on four Zones; three Zones in the North Island and one in the South Island. The proposed Zone based structure is progress. It recognises that it is the clubs that are responsible for nurturing champions. It offers the real prospect of management that is closer to and more responsive to the clubs.

I would recommend supporting the initiative BUT with one rigid qualification.

There is no point in introducing the Swimming New Zealand Zone plan without a lot more work being done on how the new structure is going to work. Right now Swimming New Zealand has provided us with a new IPhone but no operator’s manual. Without a detailed plan of how the new Zone structure is going to work it will fail just as certainly as the old one failed. The new structure needs a predetermined operating plan.

What we know so far is that the structure proposed by Swimming New Zealand involves “each Zone will have a Hub Coach.” This coach, we are told will be “responsible for collaborating with the coaches and clubs to deliver coach development opportunities, deliver combined squad trainings and other aspects of swimmer support, deliver intense competitions and develop new initiatives to engage our swimming community.” We are also told that the Hub Coach will be employed by the leading region in each Zone based on a memorandum of understanding agreed between all the regions in the Zone. Administration will be carried out by the lead region and all regions will share in the administration and coach costs.

All of that is good but does not get anywhere near the detail required before a plan like this can be approved or introduced. We need to know how this thing is going to work. Planning, that is detailed and specific, needs to be done in advance. The change needs to be properly and thoroughly managed.

Before committing money and swimmers to the new Zone scheme Swimming New Zealand members need to know specific and detailed answers to questions such as these.

  1. Who is going to be employed as a Hub Coach? How much are the Hub Coaches going to be paid? Are they provided with a vehicle?
  2. What is the Hub Coach’s job specification? We need to see a sample contract.
  3. What administration, clerical and travel support is required and what is the cost?
  4. How is a Hub Coach expected to manage the clubs in the Zone? What annual plan does the Hub Coach expect from each club? What reports are expected to compare performance to the plan?
  5. How are clubs and swimmers going to be rewarded for achieving their pre-planned targets?
  6. What combined squad training is proposed and what is its purpose?
  7. How are coaches in the Zone going to be assisted with further education and training?   

It will come as no surprise to hear that I have a view on many of these questions. But whether the way I look at each question becomes what happens does not matter. What does matter is that the questions are answered and agreed before anyone commits the lives of another generation of New Zealand swimmers to the new Zone program. The previous ill-conceived Millennium program resulted in two generations of wasted talent. Swimming must not make the same mistake again.   

Here is how I would answer some of the questions. By necessity my answers are not as thorough as Swimming New Zealand should provide before implementing a Zone based program.    

The recruitment of the four Hub Coaches must be from within New Zealand. For too long Swimming New Zealand has sucked the heart out of New Zealand’s domestic coaches by appointing foreigners as the National Head Coach. It’s about time the body responsible for swimming in New Zealand showed some trust in local coaches. New Zealand coaches do not seem to have done any harm in athletics, rugby and rowing. And before the Millennium era New Zealand coaches did well in swimming too. It’s well past time that New Zealanders were again given responsibility for swimming.

Each Hub Coach should get an annual plan from every club in their Zone. In general terms the plan should provide information of each club’s annual training plans and competitive goals. It should show the training periods planned during the year and the training volume planned for each period. The annual plan should nominate goal times and competitive results. The plan should also rank the clubs swimmers into the following categories.

  1. Those ranked in the world’s top 10 swimmers.
  2. Those ranked between 10 and 50 in the world.
  3. Those ranked between 50 and 100 in the world.
  4. Those not ranked in the top 100 in the world but ranked in the top 10 in NZ.
  5. Those ranked between 10 and 50 in NZ.
  6. Those ranked over 50 in NZ.

It is expected that at least three plans will be required, one for the first three categories, one for categories 4 and 5 and one for category 6.

Known and published financial rewards should be paid to athletes achieving the goals specified in the annual plan. Cash payments to swimmers in the first three categories should be paid by High Performance Sport New Zealand and Swimming New Zealand. Much of this is already covered by Prime Minister’s Scholarships and the like. Cash payments for those ranked in category 4 should be paid by the Zones. Swimmers in categories 5 and 6 should not be eligible for cash payments. No distinction should be made for age – only ranking.    

Money for the first three categories needs to come from High performance Sport New Zealand. We are told High Performance staff are hugely supportive of this Zone initiative. I hope this is not just Millennium coffee shop talk. Their support needs to come in the form of financial investment.

Having access to detailed plans and the offer of financial rewards will give Hub Coaches the authority to influence training and racing throughout their Zone. We all know that training and competition rules are being broken all the time. Swimmers are not doing enough aerobic training. Swimmers are doing too much anaerobic training. Swimmers race too often. And so on it goes. Rules are broken that ensure early retirement and unfulfilled potential. Detailed plans supported by tangible rewards should allow the Hub Coach to monitor and control performance and avoid these errors. The result will be improved international performance.

The devil is in the detail. And so before anyone votes for the Zone proposal the details of how the proposal is going to work should be known and be recorded in writing; a fundamental prerequisite of the Zonal plan.            

     

 

Is This Empire Corrupt?

Wednesday, September 13th, 2017

My university education had very little to do with coaching swimmers. My degree was in the twin majors of Business Administration and Political Science. I enjoyed Political Science. I was especially interested in the qualities that make a society just and fair. Qualities largely present in a society like New Zealand and missing without trace in Saudi Arabia. But even in a just and fair society the institutions that safeguard justice and fairness need protection. Without proper care, without vigilance even good communities can fail. The rule of law can be subverted by personal political ambition.

In my final year at Victoria University I did a paper on the subject of protecting society from personal political ambition. It’s a long time ago, but as best as I can remember this is the argument that earned my essay an “A” grade.            

Worldwide there are about 200 term limited presidents that completed their time in office. In slightly more than 50 cases ambitious presidents were able to extend their stay in power beyond their constitutional limits. When the time for them to leave office arrived powerful politicians were able to either ignore or alter the rules in order to hold on to power. Almost always the debate was framed that by staying they were acting entirely in the best interests of their people. Almost always a real or imagined crisis required their considerable talent and experience.    

Recently African states have been especially vulnerable to modern day Caesars seeking political immortality. Countries as otherwise diverse as Burkina Faso, Burundi, Namibia, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo have all had to deal with Presidents wanting to extend their stay in office. The lure and rewards of power can be extremely intoxicating. Only the most robust constitutional restraints and mass participation can prevent self-perpetuation in power.  

I have found that many of the features present in national state politics can also affect swimming clubs, swimming centers and national sports organizations. In the West Auckland Aquatics Club, before it was struck-off by Swimming New Zealand, we saw examples of Presidents operating outside the Constitution, of annual reports not being published or being published late, of annual meetings being missed and of elections being delayed or deferred. Quite simply the constitutional restraints and membership participation at the Club were not robust enough to control those in power. The result was terminal.

But does Swimming Wellington have a similar problem? I have to admit I am not an expert on the detail but what I do see does not look good. Take Mark Berge for example. He is the President who on his own website stunningly describes himself as the “the quintessential consultant in jeans”. That alone is a bit too cute for my taste. I’m told quintessential means “the most perfect example of quality or class”. Who on earth says that about themselves? Besides I suspect that quintessential and jeans are an unlikely match.   

However it appears that Mark Berge was originally elected to the Wellington Board in 2009 and then again in 2011 under a constitution approved in the same year. By 2014 he had either broken or was coming right up against constitutionally imposed term limits. But conveniently, in 2014, Wellington passed a new constitution that among other things ensured the survival of Mark Berge. And of course he is still there. Still there accepting awards as sportsperson of the year for his work in Swimming Wellington. Still there as President of Swimming Wellington. Still there because of a constitutional change that extended the time committee members could continue to stay in office. Interestingly the four year limit on a Board Chairman’s tenure also seems to have been abolished at that time.

In my opinion any appreciation of the “intent” behind the term limits contained in the various Wellington regional swimming constitutions would point to Mark Berge having outstayed his welcome. Of course he has not done anything unconstitutional. Neither did the Presidents of Burkina Faso and Namibia. But the intent of most term limits, I would imagine, is to avoid someone, elected eight years ago in 2009, holding on to office and putting himself forward in 2017 for another tilt at power.

And before Berge gets another term it is relevant to ask to see his record. What is his legacy? How has Wellington changed during his time in office? I imagine it is fair to use participation and performance as measures of an administrator’s influence. Well we do know that in 2010 Wellington (including Wairarapa and Wanganui) had 1776 registered swimmers. In 2016 the number of registered swimmers had declined by 221 to 1555; a 12% reduction. We also know that in 2009 Wellington won 16 medals at the National Open Championships. In 2017 that performance record had dropped by 5 medals to 11; a 31% reduction. And so it would seem that at the next Wellington general meeting it might be appropriate to ask Mark Berge exactly why he deserves another year in office.   

Perhaps, like New Zealand national politics, it is time for Swimming Wellington to have a fresh start. The old guard has had their turn. It is time for an active membership to turn power over to a new generation. Let’s do this!

 

                 

Cocaine, Codeine, Testosterone and Italian Peppermint

Tuesday, September 12th, 2017

I was interested to read the editorial written by Craig Lord and published on the Swim Vortex website on September 6 2017. In it Lord discusses the bizarre FINA organiser’s approved decision to appoint Park Tae-hwan an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships. Lord’s position is summarised early in the post.

“Forgiveness is essential. To forget and wipe the slate clean and expect that to send the right message on clean sport is folly.”

I agree with that. But before discussing why, I have a confession to make. A few years ago Craig Lord argued strenuously for “shiny” swimsuits to be banned. I, on the other hand, argued that the LZR suits were just fine. They were, I said, simply progress in the same way that the rubber track at Crystal Palace was progress over White City’s cinders. Fibre glass pole-vault poles, titanium golf clubs, composite tennis racquets, carbon fiber skis and tennis hawk-eye machines would all be banned if the Craig Lord logic had its way. But Lord won the day. In July 2009 the suits were banned.  

And Craig Lord was right and I was absolutely wrong. Swimming is a better human competition today than it had become in the yearlong LZR experiment. Lord’s campaign kept the sport alive as a primal contest between human beings.

I suspect his war on the use of drugs is doing the same thing. And on this occasion he will get no argument from me. I think his view that “forgiveness is essential” is important. But so is his stand that once caught the slate should never be wiped clean.

Some would however question the idea that there should be forgiveness. With increasing frequency I hear calls from athletes and commentators that one guilty verdict should mean a lifetime ban. I do not agree. There have been many cases where an athlete has been caught by ignorance or error or misfortune. In these cases capital punishment for a first offense would be excessive.

Take for example Jessica Hardy. At the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials, Hardy qualified for the USA Olympic Team. A few weeks later Hardy’s attorney confirmed that both her “A” and “B” samples from a test administered on July 4 were positive for clenbuterol. Media coverage of the issue noted that tainted supplements had played a part in some previous instances of bans. An example offered was the American swimmer Kicker Vencill, who won a lawsuit against a company that provided him with tainted supplements that resulted in a positive dope test and two-year ban from the sport.

And of course in New Zealand the Trent Bray case is a classic example of how a clean athlete can fall foul of the testing process. Bray went to the District Court to appeal against a positive test and won. The judge ruled that containers used in the testing were incorrect and that it took too long for the sample to be tested in Sydney. It turned out that Bray’s urine had been lying, quietly stewing, on a shelf in the sun while the laboratory staff went off on a two week Christmas holiday.  

And in my coaching career I had a fifteen year old swimmer tested during the New Zealand National Championships. Because of the Bray experience I asked the NZ Drug Agency for the travel details of the swimmer’s samples. I was supplied with the sample numbers and airway loading numbers for the trip from New Zealand to the testing laboratory in Australia. I was however deeply concerned to see that the sample numbers that left New Zealand and the airway bill record were different from the sample numbers and airway bill number received at the laboratory. Naturally I asked for an explanation. The Agency said they were very sorry but the paperwork had gone missing in Auckland and a new set of papers had been prepared. But, I was assured, the sample was still from my swimmer. For something as serious as a drug test it was appallingly bad management; someone should have lost their job. Fortunately the test was negative.

An even younger swimmer of mine, she was 12 at the time, also had a close call with the drug testers. She had swum well in the morning heats of the New South Wales Championships and qualified fastest for the evening final. When we got into the car to go to the finals I asked if she had enjoyed her afternoon rest. She said she had felt a bit of nasal congestion and so, with a friend, had walked to a local pharmacy and been given some Coldrex. She said it had worked perfectly. I, of course, went crazy. She swam. She won the final and was not tested. But that event taught me that it is never too early to teach swimmers the caution required to stay clean. The swimmer became the most careful and cleanest athlete through the balance of her pretty stellar career.         

And so mistakes do happen. As someone who wrote a lot better than me once said, “Consider this – that in the course of justice none of us should see salvation.” Mitigating circumstances do need to be taken into account; forgiveness is essential.

But forgiveness should not mean reward either. I have no problem with Park being back in the pool. But to reward him as an ambassador to the 2019 World Championships is ridiculous. He is not a role model. He’s a cheat who got caught and has been granted forgiveness. FINA do the sport no favors at all when they act in ways that reward bad behavior. I suspect the decision to make Park an ambassador reflects far worse on those bestowing the reward than it does on Park. But the way FINA behaves I’m not sure our disapproval is going to matter much. A few all expenses paid first class flights to some Asian resort will soon ease the pain of Swimwatch criticism. It will not however justify the reward they have approved for Park.

But I do have one last drug testing story. When Toni Jeffs was swimming well she was forever being called in for a drug test; in competition, out of competition, it was endless. Every two months she had to front up to the testing Agency. I think the fact she enjoyed lifting heavy weights and looked strong made them think she must be cheating. She wasn’t of course. In fact she was very careful, almost picky, about her health food diet. I thought it was tough that one hundred kilometers a week in the pool and five days of weights seemed to make her a target for their attention.

One afternoon I noticed the Drug Agency representative sitting in the stands at the pool obviously waiting for Toni to finish training. I went into the pool shop and bought a packet of Tic-Tac candy. I gave one to Toni who sprinted off down the pool. Gradually she got slower and slower until I provided a second Tic Tac. Off she went again at full speed. This slowing down, Tic Tac, speed-up process was repeated four or five times. The Drug Agency representative recorded every detail. Her pen was working at a hundred miles an hour. Finally she got up and left and we heard no more. Fortunately Toni was not tested in New Zealand for about twelve months after that. Italian peppermint could have had her banned for life.

       

  

 

Buy Amazon

Thursday, September 7th, 2017

Amazon.com sales are USD136 billion per annum and profits were USD92 million last quarter. Well, hold on to your hats, those numbers are about to change. But please keep this to yourself. I do not want to be charged with insider trading and spend six months at home attached to an ankle monitor. But here is the hot oil. I’m sure you will appreciate the seismic nature of what you are about to read.

A month ago the German publisher of my previous two books accepted for publication a manuscript for a new book written by Jane and me. It will be published in mid-2018 and will being sold in good book shops near you and on amazon.com.

The book is called “Junior Swimming – How to Survive and Prosper”. We have used actual examples of swimmers I have coached, some whom have been successful and others who for one reason or another failed to swim to their potential. You may recognize some of the swimmers. You may even recognize yourself! If your name is Toni, Nichola, Jane, Fara, Nicole, Rhi, Kirstie, Andrew, Skuba, Doug, Ozzie, Tiffany or Abigail I think you will be pleased. If your name is Julie, Linda, Jamie, Trish, Allie, Susan, Dean or Bayleigh you might not be quite so pleased. We look at the reasons some swimmers prosper and others leave before exploring their talent and discuss strategies that might avoid the problem of early drop-out.

Because the examples used are real people and real events the book may be considered by some to be confrontational. That is not our intention. Instead we hope that by openly and frankly discussing real events that happened to real people the book will make a serious contribution to improving participation in the sport – not just in New Zealand but around the world. The book draws on experiences Jane and I have had swimming or coaching in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the Virgin Islands, the United States and Saudi Arabia.  

There is no doubt that early departure from swimming is serious. Many studies, in a variety of countries, conclude that between the ages of 14 and 17 the drop-out rate is about 80%. Our book discusses why that happens and suggests remedial measures that can be taken by coaches, parents and swimmers to avoid early drop-out.

The chapters I have written look at coaching and competition factors likely to help extend and benefit a swimmer’s career. Jane has written about the same thing but from a swimmer’s perspective. I found her contribution to the book particularly interesting. It is enlightening to appreciate how difficult getting through the teenage years can be. I am sure that understanding will help others survive.

Jane and I are pleased with the result. If any of you do decide to read the book we hope you find it useful. And so get your sleeping bag out, pack your pup-tent and a picnic basket and get an early spot outside your local book store. Or perhaps better still send a pre-order email to amazon. That way you get the book and improve the value of your company shares. Enjoy!              

 

Not Fit For Office

Saturday, July 8th, 2017

About fifty years ago a prominent track and field official was quoted in Wellington’s Dominion newspaper. In response to a question about why a female athlete had not been selected for the New Zealand Olympic Games team he said, “No woman should be selected if a good man is available.”

Thank God those attitudes are a thing of the past. Or are they? This week the most powerful man in the world, Donald Trump, President of the United States of America, described a prominent MSNBC television presenter as, “Low I.Q. Crazy Mika bleeding badly from a face-lift.” It is not the first time Trump has resorted to assaulting women. He has publically commented on Megyn Kelly’s menstruation, fat-shamed a former Miss Universe, questioned the physical appearance of Hillary Clinton, Arianna Huffington, Rosie O’Donnell, Carly Fiorina and Heidi Cruz and has claimed special gender rights that include grabbing women by the pussy.

There is no place anywhere for that sort of behaviour; not in Joe’s Diner, not in a truck stop on the I95 and certainly not in the White House Oval Office. Trump’s defence, that he was just hitting back after being attacked is pathetic. He is the President of the United States for God’s sake. Hasn’t he ever heard words like class and dignity? It appears not. Have you noticed recently how often Trump mentions God. We need to pray for this and pray for that and thank God for the United States of America. Well Mr Trump let me direct you to the Book of Mathew, Chapter 5 and Verse 39. It says, “But I say unto you, that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Oh and one other verse may help, Romans Chapter 12 and Verse 19. It says, “Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord.”

I am aware that an appeal to Christian values is meaningless when the object of discussion is Donald Trump. Male or female, he hates people who challenge him. But he especially hates women who question his divine power. In his mind the weakest are challenging the strongest. For Trump there is only one response, attack where the women are most vulnerable – their intelligence, their looks and their biology. Trump simply does not understand that from here to the gutter ain’t up.

Without question Trump’s behaviour is classic misogyny. What that means is Trump can come across as gallant and chivalrous because he sees himself as superior to women. But what he hates is certain behaviours deemed unbecoming to women such as power, independence and ambition. Where the misogynistic behavior comes in is when women do not behave in the way Trump deems appropriate. In Trump’s world women need to be secondary to him, their principle function is to promote his masculine image, they must not compete with him and they are not to be taken seriously. Their purpose is to be a trophy enhancing the master’s image. When women violate Trump’s misogyny rules he becomes verbally and physically abusive. As I say, classic misogyny.   

I am reluctant to spring to the defence of women. I get tired of men who speak on behalf of women; who know what women’s reproductive rights should be and who claim authority to decide on women’s civil liberties and conditions. It is disgraceful that the health care bill being considered in the US Senate includes maternity care, contraception services and the like and was written in secret by 13 men. Women can best speak for themselves. They do not need my help. However, at the risk of becoming another male interfering where I am not needed, there is a swimming aspect to all this that I do want to have aired.  

In my time as a swimming coach I have been fortunate enough to coach some women whose courage, independence and application has left me speechless; they were tough beyond belief. I have sat for a thousand hours on the side of tracks and swimming pools watching female athletes do some incredible feats. The pinnacle of application in my type of aerobic training program is running 100 miles a week or swimming 100 kilometres in a week. They are both extremely difficult. Swimming 100 kilometres in a week involves 4000 lengths of the pool and means being soaked in chlorine water for about 30 hours. The hurt is extreme. Chlorine burns the skin raw. The monotony is stunning. It is hard, very,very hard.

And yet I’ve coached 14 women who have run or swum that far, week after week. Here are their names – Alison, Toni, Nichola, Jane, Ruth, Nichole, Fara, Tiffany, Rhi, Kirstie, Jessica, Lara, Bridget and Abigail. There is nothing weak about this group. Their swimming application takes second place to no one. And they were successful – thirteen of the fourteen competed in National Open Championship finals, twelve won a National Open Championship medal and eight won a National Open Championship title. They were hard workers and high achievers.

And that is the annoying thing about Trump’s behaviour. When I hear him say the things he says I can’t help but take it personally. I see it as an attack on the high achieving women I know. And quite simply he is not allowed to do that; not ever. When he demeans a successful female TV presenter he demeans all successful women. When he personally insults a talented female political competitor he insults all female competitors. When he chooses to obsess about Megyn Kelly’s period he turns all women into biological objects.

The example of these 14 women shows clearly why Donald Trump is not fit to be in the White House. Their example confirms that the task is not to reform Donald Trump but to “repeal and replace”. He needs to be sent back to Trump Tower, to a place where his wife and daughters seem to be happy to excuse and live with a crass 71 year old baby.